When my Puppy beat a Sermon

Who knew a playful puppy could become a powerful sermon? It happened today.

There’s something about being a Christian that leaves me with a nagging sense that I’m not doing well enough. Not involved in church enough. Not reaching out or being a witness or praying for missions enough. Not growing enough or giving enough or studying enough.

In the most significant part of my life—the one that everything else should draw from—I feel like a failure.


I’ve been grappling with this lately. Why do I—and maybe you—feel like we’re just not good enough as Christ-followers?

Perhaps it’s the books we are reading which always hint that we haven’t quite made it. I pulled out a few random ones from my own shelf. Restoring your Spiritual Passion (i.e. you’ve lost it). Finding the Life you’ve been Looking for (because obviously you haven’t yet, and might never). Descending into Greatness (because you’re still way too proud and far from great). I’m sure there is valuable teaching in these and many other Christian books, but the starting point is always that we’re getting it wrong and need to pull up our socks.

Sermons and teachings often send us the same message. In the last while I’ve listened to sermons with titles such as Choose Wisdom instead of Foolishness, Where has my Courage Gone, and Stuck in Self-Reliance. The messages are valuable but at the same time remind me that I’m prone to be foolish, cowardly and mistrustful of God.

Perhaps at the root of it, is our own view of God as solemn, stern and rather judgmental. Uh well, yes…isn’t that what he ultimately is? We’re told that one day we’ll stand before his judgement seat, where our deeds and words will be weighed (and probably found wanting). Admittedly, reading the Bible can bring on a sense of failure even faster than sermons or books.

Here’s the thing though. Even if I have lost my spiritual fervour, am a touch too proud and don’t lean on God enough: I’m tired of feeling like a failure, because honestly, I’m trying (aha aha …wagging finger…there’s that self-reliance creeping in again!)

It’s true. I’m not where other people are. Maybe I’m not even where I should be (although who exactly defines should?)

And yet…

Today I was sitting in the garden, studiously, bible in lap. I was reading Exodus, already about two months behind in my annual bible reading plan. Then my 6-month-old puppy came gambolling down the path towards me, all joyful smiles, so enthusiastic at finding me that he almost knocked right into me. I laughed, closed my Bible and rubbed his silky coat, marvelling at those nut-brown eyes that look like pools of liquid love. At that moment I knew…just knew. God does not think me a failure. Right then God wasn’t sternly looking down and wondering why I wasn’t finishing the chapter. No, he was delighting in me delighting in my dog—this beautiful, playful, joyful animal that he created.

I know what it’s like to want to share your art, your creations, and at that moment that’s what we were doing, God and I—both revelling in Jabori. I sensed a God who is as joyful and tender and exuberant as his creations. He’s an artist who playfully creates and calls us to explore our own unique creativity. Who enjoys his creations (including us) and wants to share that enjoyment with us—in nature, in families and friendships, and ultimately in relationship with him.

That heavy, condemning weight lifted from me in that moment. It’s a sneaky thing though, my critical sense of failure, and I suspect it might try to creep back.

Here’s the thing, my beautiful brothers and sisters. I don’t think we do God any favours by walking around feeling like failures, or by projecting to the world that God is angry and punitive and out to get them.

Let’s open their eyes—and to do that, we have to open ours first—to a God who loves us and laughs with us and is playful, even at times frivolously so. That’s the God I want to follow, to serve, to draw others to in as winsome a way as I can. Not because a book or study told me I had to, but because I want everyone to know he is a friend worth having.

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  1. Fiona Barenfeld Leavitt

    Thankyou Joan!! I so needed to read that!! God bless you! (PS.I love your Poison Tree Path Chronicles!! Still upset about Lohlyn!😥) Very much invested in the characters and love them all…well maybe not so much Lord Lucien! 😉

    • Joan Campbell

      Thanks Fiona…and sorry about Lohlyn. You’re not the first to lodge a complaint. So glad you enjoyed the series, though.

  2. Thank you Joan. This is just what I needed to hear. Bless you for sharing your heart and thoughts. May you be immersed in lots of love, laughter, joy, delight and deliciousness x

  3. Roma Thompson

    Wow! A wonderful encouragement for this Friday morning. Thank you for that insight. Much love.

  4. Roy Campbell (ZA - JNB)

    A very special message written with such insight. Thanks Joan.

  5. Patrice Doten

    So good! Thanks!

  6. Thank you. That was a beautiful revelation of how God sees me.

  7. Nicole Campbell

    Jabori really is such a blessing 😊 I’m glad he helped you to participate in the discipline of celebration and joy

  8. Christine Rankine

    Beautiful Joan. It really is so much easier to look at an adorable child or puppy and just revel in their uniqueness and perfection while being unnecessarily critical of ourselves.
    God loves us for what and who we are. We really do need to remember this and to turn our faces like sunflowers following His light and let His approval glow within us.
    Thank you for that lovely reminder.

  9. Shirley Aimer

    This is beautiful Joan. Enjoying God and being enjoyed by him. Love Nicole’s comment…I need to participate more in the discipline of celebration and joy. Thank you

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